Traveling through Phnom Penh: Killing Fields and Tuol Sieng

Phnom Penh's locals are beautiful to photograph

Phnom Penh’s locals are beautiful to photograph

Phnom Penh – Three weeks flew by, leaving us only six days to tour quickly through Phnom Penh, spend a few days at the beach, and head across Vietnam’s border to Ho Chi Minh City.  Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, sits along the MeKong, and many guesthouses offer fabulous sunsets across the water. We stayed at “Happy” guesthouse, complete with pool tables and several decks built across the water. Since time was short, we hired a driver for a city tour so we could see some museums and the more popular tourist attractions. Our guesthouse helped us find a good price, and we had the luxury of a personal driver for a full day of adventure.

Tears at Choeung Ek – Our first stop was the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. During the Khmer Rouge takeover, under the leadership of Pol Pot, thousands of Cambodians were exterminated and thrown into the mass graves of Choeung Ek. Many of them were tortured, including women and children, and bludgeoned to death or simply died of disease or starvation. More than 8000 remains of the unfortunate victims have been exhumed from their graves and their skulls are on display in the memorial on the property.  Visitors are still able to see the large pits where the bodies were buried, and it’s a very disturbing sight.

Choeng Ek - What was left behind.

Choeng Ek – What was left behind.

A Flashback to Tuol Sleng Museum – Our next stop was the Tuol Sleng museum where in 1975 the sight was taken over by Pol Pot and turned into S-21, the largest torture center in Cambodia. During the onset of S-21 an estimated 100 victims were killed daily. The museum is set up much like it was in the 1970’s. Many of the leg irons, torture devices, and holding cells are in their original state, left untouched since the dark days of the Khmer Rouge. A photographic display shows images of the many victims, pictures taken with their hands tied behind their backs and numbers thrown around their necks. I’ll never forget the sad, haunted looks in the children’s eyes, staring from behind the glass panels.

Why Pol Pot?  – Though the history books explain why Pol Pot did what he did, I have trouble understanding the human design and thought.  An estimated 2,000 children were killed during Pol Pot’s regime. Other prisoners were composed of workers, teachers, technicians, students, professionals, ministers, and diplomats. Many were killed simply because they were intellectual, wore glasses, or spoke a foreign language. The regime branded them as “parasites” and thought that they may go against Pol Pot’s plan for a Maoist, agrarian society. How anyone could think that a little, eight year old girl could possibly be a government parasite is difficult to understand. The whole exhibit was incredibly moving and we left with heavy hearts. I’m very glad that we had a chance to see the monuments and learn more about what happened during the Khmer Rouge takeover.

Off to Sihanoukville – Tomorrow we are going snorkling near some of the outer islands off of Sihanoukville. The tourist season is low and we are able to barter for prices with almost anything. The rainy season has also started and we have been experiencing daily rain storms. I have yet to learn that I must carry my umbrella with me everywhere, but, thankfully the storms are usually short and I’m never stuck anywhere for long.

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